Hyundai subsidiary under investigation for alleged use of child labor

Hyundai subsidiary under investigation for alleged use of child labor

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State regulators launched an investigation Friday after news reported that a Hyundai subsidiary in Alabama was using child labor at its metal stamping plant.

In some cases, Reuters reported Friday, children as young as 12 have been employed at SMART’s Alabama factory in Luverne, which supplies parts for the South Korean automaker’s US flagship in nearby Montgomery.

The news agency said it learned about underage workers after the brief disappearance of a young girl in Alabama. Police in the city of Enterprise, who helped locate the girl, told Reuters that she and her two siblings worked at SMART. The girl and her brothers did not go to school, Reuters reported, and had been working at the factory earlier this year. SMART denies knowingly employing minors.

The Alabama Department of Labor is now coordinating with other agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, to begin investigating the matter, a spokesman for the state agency told The Washington Post in an email on Friday.

Alabama law prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working in a manufacturing environment, she said, adding that regardless of which company pays the minor, the minor’s presence alone is sufficient to establish employment. “They were at the SMART factory, they are SMART employees as far as the Alabama child labor law is concerned,” said Tara Hutchison, the state spokeswoman.

The girl turns 14 this month and her brothers are 12 and 15.

Federal employment officials told the Post that the agency was aware of the Reuters report but could not comment on the ongoing investigation or pending actions.

Gary Sport, SMART’s general manager of business administration, said the company “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who was ineligible for employment,” under local state and federal laws. In a statement to The Post, Sport said the company relies on temp agencies to fill vacancies and if it learns workers are unsuitable for employment they are immediately removed from the premises.

In a statement Friday, Hyundai told the Post that illegal employment practices will not be tolerated. “We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws.”

Police in the city of Enterprise, where the girl’s family lives, have no jurisdiction over labor law cases and have referred the matter to the attorney general’s office, Reuters reported. Neither company responded to requests for comment.

Reuters said the children’s father, Pedro Tzi, has verified the account and all three are now enrolled for the upcoming school year.

The children were among a larger cohort of underage workers who had found jobs at Hyundai’s own supplier in recent years, Reuters reported, citing interviews with a dozen former and current plant employees and recruitment agencies. Several of those minors, they said, gave up schooling to work long shifts at the factory, a sprawling facility with a documented history of health and safety injuries, including amputation hazards.

Hyundai is one of the most profitable automakers in the world, posting nearly $90 billion in sales last year.

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